Let’s talk about stunt racing games!
Racing games have always held a special place in my gaming history, and I think it’s in large part due to the stunt racer and the love and frustration they bring.
I’m going to talk about a few of my favourites.
Stunt Car Racer (1989)
The feel of speed and the floaty physics lent itself to a game that felt dangerous.
This was my first stunt racing game. I would have been 9 or 10 years old when I first laid my eyes on what would become one of my most memorable Amiga games. Developed by Geoff Crammond (who fittingly has a physics degree), and published by Microprose. The game puts you on thin tracks closely resembling a roller coaster ride, and they get steeper and more difficult as you progress through the game. The feel of speed and the floaty physics lent itself to a game that felt dangerous. Your car felt heavy and lumbering, and as you raced around the tracks your car would creak and slowly tear itself apart due to the stresses put on the car by your driving. It was meant to be unnerving. It was punishingly difficult, and it made you really pay attention to how you landed your jumps, ensuring you got the speed just right to reduce damage.
There are quite a few tracks to master, and a whole host of unique racers to defeat on your way to the championship.
It’s a fantastic game, and I still enjoy playing it now. There is also a C64 port that is incredibly well done for the capabilities of the system.
Known as Fatal Racing tho the rest of the world, Whiplash was developed by Gremlin Interactive, who were known for creating Gauntlet, the Top Gear games, and many others. It’s a “modern style” racer with stunt tendencies in the early days of 3D games on MSDOS. Released in 1995, later versions would include Glide3D support for dedicated GPUs in the Voodoo line of graphics cards.
Mostly, the tracks were in cities and other landscapes, with features thrown in like loop-the-loops and corkscrews for the stunts. Not taking itself too seriously, there is an announcer that’s not too dissimilar to other racing games of the period. He’ll either encourage you when you finish a lap, or tell you when you’re going too slow. When your car launches over a corkscrew, you can hear the driver shouting “YEEEEE HAWW HAWWW!”.
The gameplay largely seems a little wonky and slow by today’s standards, but the game was a huge hit with me. It was a fun game that didn’t take itself very seriously, and I played through it several times before moving on to other games.
Carmageddon II: Carpocalypse Now (1998)
Carmageddon II was an arena style racing game where you are pit against a grid of other racers in a kill-or-be-killed race. The game was developed by Stainless Games, who went on to produce a bunch of Arcade remakes and MTG Card games before eventually returning to create a long awaited continuation to the Carmageddon franchise. The game takes its inspiration from the 1975 film Death Race 2000. Sure you can win by racing, but it’s much more fun to just kill all the other racers before the race ends (you can also win by wiping out every pedestrian on the map, and there are TONS).
This game has massive maps, tons of power-ups, and lots of hidden secrets to find. It’s not inherently a stunt racing game, but I included it because of its tendency to reward those who explore. There are high up places with special power-ups all over, that you can only get to by taking huge leap of faith jumps from some ramp off in the distance.
I spent entire weekends with friends at a LAN parties, laughing and having a great time with this title.
Rollcage Stage II (2000)
Rollcage Stage II was a futuristic weapons based racer where the main shtick was that your car didn’t really have an upside and downside. It could drive either way just fine, and this led the way to tracks designed to take advantage of the feature. Tracks that allow you to drive on the ceiling, tracks with areas that loop around in a corkscrew, etc.
Rollcage Stage II was developed by the infamous Psygnosis, who made their name by creating some of the most prolific Amiga games of all time. Shadow of the Beast, Lemmings, Ballistix, Last Action Hero, Barbarian, and many others. Later on they would develop the Wipeout and Destruction Derby series. Rollcage Stage II was also one of the first ever games to support a special bump mapping technology that was only available to owners of the Matrox Millennium G400 GPUs (which I had at the time).
The real lure of this game was the Scramble Mode. It’s a puzzle style mode where the tracks are purposefully difficult, and you earn medals based on your time to the finish. There are no other racers, just you and the clock. Tough obstacles and ever increasing difficulty meant you had to learn your car’s intricacies to stand a chance of finishing the tracks.
Trackmania Series (2003-Present)
The Trackmania series of games started with the original game back in 2003. It was developed by a then-completely-unknown French developer called Nadeo. The game features three different cars, each with their own unique handling characteristics, and own environments, with completely different track sets and obstacles. You primarily race against the clock, and when you do play online, there is no collision with other cars, so the clock is still your only real enemy.
Trackmania Sunrise came next, and it too, featured three (brand new) cars, each with their own handling characteristics and environments. Very much a basic sequel by the numbers, but Nadeo really took it up a notch with the number of tracks, and a brand new Platform mode, somewhat similar to the Scramble Mode in Rollcage Stage II. You have a start and finish, a number of checkpoints in-between, and the goal is to get to the end point with as little resets as possible, on increasingly difficult tracks.
With the growing popularity of their games, and a budding eSports scene, Nadeo released a new game with a new car/environment based loosely on F1 styling. They were ultra fast, had incredible handling, and looked the part. The new game would be free too play, and featured car skins for each country. The result was a massive following and a huge community of racers, mappers, youtube creators and later on streamers. There is also a thriving eSports scene that still carries on to this day.
Trackmania Nations earned Nadeo the credibility and recognition that caught the attention of Ubisoft. They were eventually purchased, along with the rights to the Trackmania series.
In Trackmania Nations, user made tracks are created with the built in track editor, and pieces of the track are placed on a sort of grid pattern. Track size is limited to a 32x32x32 area within the stadium of Trackmania Nations for a very long time, which would essentially allow for total count of 32,768 blocks at most when making tracks. That seems like a lot, but when you’re designing a track and want to do something in long stretch, 32 blocks can feel very limiting. That didn’t stop people from making crazy creations, however.
These limitations didn’t last forever. At some point, some very clever modders figured out a way to increase this limitation to a whopping 256x256x256, which allows for 16,777,216 blocks! As you can imagine, this can quite easily bring many PCs to their knees. Mappers quickly started to create unique ways to utilize this new freedom, mostly resulting in ultra fast tracks designed to test even the best racers, all the while keeping the speed at an absolute maximum. Some went horizontal, some went vertical! The tracks using this mod were aptly named 256³ tracks, and the ones at full speed were aptly named “full speed”. Put them together and you have something very special brewing.
At this point, I would like to direct your attention to an amazing video showcasing the top 12 most popular 256³ tracks.
"Are Trackmania games the greatest stunt racing games of all time? I definitely think so."
The thing I love about the Trackmania games is that they are difficult, but dead easy to start playing. What I mean is; anyone can play and race, and they will have fun immediately. The skill ceiling however, is unnaturally high. There are no assist mechanics in the game for steering, braking, and subsequently flying. It’s a proper physics engine, and It’s also completely free from any sort of motion blur or FOV changes, so the speed is blazing fast and completely natural.
Are Trackmania games the greatest stunt racing games of all time? I definitely think so. Greatest all around racing games of all time? I’ll stick with a maybe on that one.
Go play some Trackmania if you haven’t played the series. You owe it to yourself!